113th Congress ends with more fights than feats

Published 10:04 am Wednesday, December 17, 2014

WASHINGTON — The tempestuous 113th Congress has limped out of Washington for the last time, capping two years of modest and infrequent legislating that was overshadowed by partisan clashes, gridlock and investigations.

“Thank God it’s over,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said as he left the Capitol late Tuesday.

How’s this for a legacy? Just over 200 bills became law during the past two years, according to congressional data. That was the fewest since at least 1947 and 1948, when what President Harry Truman dubbed “the do-nothing Congress” enacted over 900 laws.

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This Congress did less than the do-nothing one.

Efforts to revamp the immigration system, tighten gun buyers’ background checks and force work on the Keystone XL oil pipeline all foundered as the Republican-run House and Democratic-led Senate check-mated each other’s priorities. Across-the-board spending cuts designed to be so painful that they would force the two parties to negotiate deficit reduction took effect anyway, attempts to overhaul the tax code went nowhere, and each chamber passed a budget that the other ignored.

The partisan impasse was complicated by conservative tea party lawmakers whom GOP leaders often found unmanageable. That helped spark a 16-day partial government shutdown that was hated by voters and became one of this Congress’ hallmarks.